In 2014, when Ought dropped their critically acclaimed debut album ‘More Than Any Other Day’, nobody could have imagined that the Canadian post-punk outfit’s strikingly refreshing music would one day recall the likes of The National and even Oasis. Even for a band that wears a great variety of influences on its sleeve, Ought belonged to the more experimental aesthetic associated with their then label, Constellation Records, home to artists such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Colin Stetson. For their third full-length album, they signed to Merge Records, known for more indie acts like Arcade Fire. Make no mistake: the album overflows with the same sense of fervent passion, visceral urgency, and disaffected angst. But with each release, Ought take a step back to reflect more, measuring the perfect balance between tension and release. On ‘Room Inside the World’, they refine their sound but still deliver unnervingly manic intensity.
While Tim Darcy continues to delve into themes of identity in postmodern society, the beautifully artistic album cover hints at how the band has evolved – the deep, soulful hues suggestive of a different emotional complexity and openness. Just like the colours interact without really melding together, the record – more art rock than post-punk – is a homogenous whole whose individual parts hold your attention by being exhilaratingly dynamic. Mid-album highlight ‘Desire’ might be one of the most ambitious tracks the band has ever written, and also one of the most accessible, as Tim Darcy’s outstandingly passionate delivery is accompanied by a 70-piece choir; but interestingly, the song breaks down into an awe-inspiring, almost apocalyptic outro. ‘Disaffectation’, one of the more fast-paced, angst-driven moments that reminds one of the band’s roots, goes down a similar direction towards the end, embodying the feeling of disorientation and overwhelmingness that Darcy anxiously sings about: “Well here’s some medication, you can get it through the phone/ Disaffection is holy, it makes me feel alive”. The band’s social commentary, while hard to decipher, is easy to spot; ‘Disgraced in America’ is the most overtly political song in the tracklisting.
You still get a sense of the kind of nervous energy Ought are known for bubbling under the surface – whether it be through Darcy’s emotional delivery and unique lyrical style or Matt May’s experimental, often dissonant synth flourishes – but there’s a newfound stability that comes across through the production by Nicolas Vernhes (Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Silver Jews). This is evident on new wave-influenced tracks like ‘These 3 Things’ where bassist Ben Stidworthy and drummer Tim Keen keep a steady and infectious groove that acts as a foundation for Darcy’s theatrical vocals. The drum work on tracks like ‘Take Everything’ is impressive, while on opener ‘Into the Sea’, it gives the track a more chaotic vibe, like plunging into the album’s underwater abyss.
Towards the end of the album, the band shifts to a quieter, more relaxed sound. Slowcore ballad ‘Brief Shield’ is a surprisingly romantic tune, which, with its clean, sweet guitar echoes By the Way-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, but evolves into something more dreamy and intoxicating. Though more vigorous and melancholy as a song, the attitude on ‘Pieces Wasted’ is equally introspective: “I am in agreeance that time is like a strobe light/ Better get to blinking, I don’t want to miss a thing,” Darcy laments. ‘Alice’ is a memorable closer and a wonderfully melodic track that highlights and brings back the interaction between the instruments and Darcy’s voice that was so captivating on the band’s earlier records. The song feels like sailing in the middle of the night, unable to see where you’re going; and yet, you get the sense that it’s only a distant memory. Ought‘s hidden optimism hesitantly comes to the surface on Room Inside the World more than ever before.
The albums full track-listing is…
1. Into the Sea
2. Disgraced in America
4. These 3 Things
6. Brief Shield
7. Take Everything
8. Pieces Wasted